Welcome back to the Monday Finish, where we’re lobbying the PGA Tour to lend the NFL some officials — surely that would lead to fewer penalties. Let’s get to it!
FIRST OFF THE TEE
Reed vs. Rory (in the court of public opinion)
There’s been plenty of speculation on the events surrounding Rory McIlroy and Patrick Reed in the last week. On our Drop Zone podcast, my co-host Sean Zak described “Teegate” as the dumbest story of all time. And perhaps he’s right — but dumb stories are our specialty. This is golf, after all! What is, on its surface, an incredibly dumb story — Reed and McIlroy in a roughly 10-second interaction on the driving range — actually speaks to golf’s current biggest story, the battle between LIV and the PGA Tour.
Surely you’ve heard about this Reed-Rory back-and-forth by now, but in case the rock you’ve been living under doesn’t yet have a stable wifi connection, I’m here to simplify things as much as possible. Let’s start with facts and we’ll finish with theories, all via bullet points. They’re easier. Cool?
REED vs. RORY, in bullet points:
-On Tuesday Patrick Reed tried to chat up Rory McIlroy on the range
-McIlroy ignored him. Why?
-Well, they’re on opposite sides of the LIV vs. PGA Tour split
-Also, Reed has been suing several key entities in the golf world
-And Reed’s lawyer Larry Klayman is suing the PGA Tour, too
-And as a part of that suit (not one of Reed’s) Klayman subpoenaed McIlroy
-At his home
-On Christmas Eve
-Anyway, Rory wasn’t interested in seeing Reed
-So Reed tossed a LIV “4 ACES” tee on the ground next to Rory as he walked away
-Someone saw the interaction and it became a vague story with a juicy headline
-When Rory was asked about it he said it was nothing, at first
-But added some jokes at Reed’s expense
-Reed also said it was nothing, at first
-But added that Rory was acting like an “immature child”
-Still with me? There’s more
-The two were almost paired together on the weekend, but not quite
-Then Reed hit a ball into a tree on the 17th hole in the third round
-Using binoculars, Reed then identified his ball in a tree, took an unplayable lie and made bogey
-But replays showed the ball had very likely gone in a different tree
-Reed said he was “100 percent” certain he’d spotted his ball in the tree.
-A rules official supported his account
-McIlroy came to his defense, suggesting that with any other player it would have been a “non-issue”
-Then came the final round
-Reed began the day four shots back but shot 65, the second-lowest round in the field
-Rory trailed with two holes to play — but then birdied 17 and 18 to beat Reed by one
-And his putt at No. 18 was quite the bender!
-Afterward he called the win “sweeter than it should be”
-Reed told Golf Digest he felt victimized because of his reputation but defended his actions
-“It always seems to come down to Rory and I,” he added. “We love to put on a good show.”
So — what happened with the ball in the tree?
There are really only three options.
1. That somehow was Reed’s ball in the tree … despite the evidence showing it had landed in an adjacent tree. Weird bounce. Weird trick of the light. I dunno. This seems unlikely, but maybe it’s possible? (Brandel Chamblee doesn’t seem to think so.)
2. Reed thought it was his ball and tried to do the right thing. Maybe there was another ProV1 with a very similar marking to his. There was an official with him who corroborated his story, after all. And it’s not as if his black line marking is wholly unique — plenty of people do that. Perhaps a spotter pointed him to the wrong tree and it was an honest mistake. If you’re a Reed defender, this is likely where you land.
3. Reed knew it wasn’t his ball but tried to get away with it anyway. This is the where-there’s-smoke-there’s-fire stance. In other words, if you believe Reed was knowingly in the wrong in various previous instances, you might think he was a bad actor here, too.
BONUS: Conspiracy theories
The “premeditated” theory: Reed planted a ball in that tree in a practice round, anticipating this exact scenario.
The “institutional corruption” theory: The footage was doctored afterward in an effort to frame Reed.
The “second shooter” theory: Another mysterious person hit a tee shot at the exact same time and went into the other tree — Reed’s ball flight wasn’t actually captured by that camera shot.
Anyway, there are your options. I’ll let you be the judge.
Who won the week?
Max Homa, Closer
Sheesh. Max Homa began Saturday’s final round at the Farmers Insurance Open three shots behind Jon Rahm and five shots behind Sam Ryder. On a blustery day at Torrey Pines, he birdied five of the first 11 holes and then made two legendary swings in the final three holes — a 4-iron to set up birdie at No. 16 and then a fairway wood over the pond to set up birdie at No. 18 — to post six-under 66, tied for the low round of the day and good for a two-shot victory.
Good timing: I recently spent a bunch of time with Homa for the cover story of our January issue. His play on Sunday backed up a bunch of the things that people around Homa told me in the reporting for that story, namely these two:
-He loves playing in California and he thrives in comfortable groupings, like Saturday’s final round with Collin Morikawa.
-He loves being near the lead. He wants the ball. He locks in. His only crises of confidence come early in the week. Once he’s in the mix, he tends to give himself a chance to get it done. Homa now has 10 top-three finishes between the Korn Ferry Tour and the PGA Tour — and eight of those 10 are wins. That’s an incredible X-factor. Most guys shrink from the lead; Homa embraces it.
Homa also deserves credit for the walk-and-talk he pioneered on the 13th hole on Friday, where he wore an AirPod and chatted through his approach with the team in the broadcast booth. It was innovative and informative and broke down the barriers between the viewers at home and the action on the ground.
Plus it gives an opportunity to plug a full walk-and-talk I did with Homa at the cover shoot. Ours was more fun, if lower stakes…
Rory McIlroy, Top Dog
There’s a different version of the weekend’s events where Jon Rahm chases down Sam Ryder et al. on Saturday at Torrey Pines while McIlroy stumbles to the finish on Monday, losing to frenemy Reed and suffering some indignity in the process.
To McIlroy’s delight, that’s not how things went down. Trailing on the 17th tee, he drove the green to set up a two-putt birdie. And even though he didn’t have much room to spare, he navigated the 18th hole just well enough to give himself a good look for birdie. Given the fact his name wound up in this column, we’ll let you guess how that went.
“I think mentally today was probably one of the toughest rounds I’ve ever had to play,” McIlroy concluded. “Because it would be really easy to let your emotions get in the way and I just had to really concentrate on focusing on myself. Forget who was up there on the leaderboard, and I did that really, really well.”
They get participation trophies — and a lot of money.
Keegan Bradley, Ryder Cup Contender
If there is a place to bet on Keegan Bradley making the U.S. Ryder Cup team, get in while you can — we’re in the midst of the Bradley Resurgence. He and Homa had the only rounds of 66 on Sunday and his late charge included birdies at 13, 14 and 17, leaving Bradley as the lone runner-up. If he’d gotten up and down for birdie at No. 18 it would have put additional pressure on Homa, who would have needed birdie at 18 to seal his win.
The most encouraging part of Bradley’s weekend? He finished first in strokes gained putting, the single category that has held him back in recent years. He’s currently 43rd on Tour in SG: Putting, continuing a dramatic improvement that began last season after a run of several years in the basement of the Tour’s putting stats.
Keegan Bradley’s putting ranks by year:
2022-23 (so far): 43rd
As for Ryder Cup standings? Bradley’s currently in 7th on Team USA, ahead of names like Schauffele, Finau, Cantlay and Spieth. Needless to say, there’s a lot of golf left…
Sam Ryder’s joggers
If it’s not tough enough to have Jon Rahm, Tony Finau, Collin Morikawa, Sungjae Im and Max Homa breathing down your neck as you track toward your first PGA Tour win, Sam Ryder had to take on Sartorial Cop Phil Mickelson, too.
Ryder seized a commanding lead on Thursday, stayed in front with a round of even-par 72 on Friday and began his final round in style with a birdie at No. 1 that increased his lead to four.
The 17 holes that followed served to reinforce just how tough it is to win on the PGA Tour. Collin Morikawa illustrated this point in the first tournament of 2023 when he gave away a six-shot lead on Sunday — and he’s been there before! It’s even tougher for Sam Ryder, who has never contended in a tournament of this stature. Bookmakers were skeptical of his chances; he was an underdog to get the job done even when he held a four-shot lead. And when Ryder made bogeys at 7 and 8 it felt like the inevitable crumble was happening.
But he got one shot back with a birdie at No. 10 and continued to hang in there while other stars — including those in his group — faded from relevance.
Finally, with 68 of the 72 holes behind him, Ryder’s reckoning arrived: He compounded a poor tee shot at 15 with a miss on his pitch shot. He walked off with double bogey, while Homa’s birdie a hole ahead all but sealed his fate.
Still, he should see his T4 as progress rather than any sort of failure.
Patrick Reed, Compartmentalizer
Patrick Reed has a superpower that extends beyond his spectacular touch around the greens: his ability to play his best golf while embroiled in controversy.
You probably remember Reed’s waste-bunker incident at the 2019 Hero World Challenge. You might not remember that he put together a final-round 66 (including birdies on three of his final four holes) to finish third place, just two shots behind Henrik Stenson.
You probably remember that Reed’s caddie Kessler Karain got in a physical altercation with a spectator at the Presidents Cup the following week and was forced from singles competition. You might not remember that was the same match that Reed won six of the first seven holes, five of them with birdies, en route to a trouncing of C.T. Pan.
You probably remember Reed’s strange plugged-lie incident at the 2021 Farmers Insurance Open, two years ago this weekend. You might not remember that he went on to win the tournament by five shots even as videos went viral and accusations swirled.
That’s not to mention the solo circumstances behind his Masters title.
So it should have come as no surprise this weekend when Reed, again thrust into the center of attention under bizarre circumstances, rebounded with a final-round 65 that very nearly earned him a massive win.
ALMOST-WINNER HONORABLE MENTIONS
We’d be remiss not to mention Collin Morikawa, who finished strong en route to a bronze medal; Sahith Theegala, whose first title is coming; Sungjae Im, who has no weaknesses; Jason Day, who loves Torrey Pines; Hideki Matsuyama, who was in the thick of contention for a moment in the final round; Tony Finau, who had to birdie his 36th hole just to make the cut and then played his way into the final group; and Rickie Fowler, whose work with Butch Harmon had him in the mix in the final round, too. Cheers, gang.
Maybe next week?
Jon Rahm’s final-round meh
Rahm was hunting a three-peat and had played his way into position to seize exactly that. He’s had only success at Torrey Pines. He entered the final round in solo second. And the only man in front of him was Ryder. But Rahm faltered to a final-round 74 that included a momentum-halting double bogey at the par-4 5th.
Rahm chalked it up to just one of those days.
“It’s golf,” he said. He added that he got bad breaks and bad lies that turned into bad results.
“I made a lot of bad breaks,” he clarified. “I can guarantee you one thing, if you’re in the fairway, you don’t get bad breaks. Just have to play better.”
Taylor Montgomery’s weekend
Like Rahm, we’re only mentioning Taylor Montgomery here because he’s been so good of late, parachuting onto the PGA Tour scene with four top 10s and eight top 20s in just nine starts to begin his rookie season. There he was again at this week’s halfway mark, right in the thick of things after rounds of 67-71.
But weekend rounds of 75-75 spelled doom for his chances at contention; Montgomery faded to a T31 finish. Hardly an embarrassing or dispiriting result — just a rare couple off-days that draw attention to how good he’d been before now.
Phil Mickelson’s trash-talk
There is an endless list of things in the golf world that Mickelson can claim high ground on. Fashion sense is probably not on that list.
NEWS FROM SEATTLE
Monday Finish HQ.
This year’s Seattle winter seems to have two options: Cold and clear or slightly less cold but gloomy. You want sunshine? No problem! It’s gonna top out at 38 degrees, though. Oh, you want it a little warmer? No worries! But there’s some drizzle that comes with it. Sorry, we can’t substitute that out — it’s already mixed in.
What’s the point? The point is that 38 and sunny is actually pretty nice. Wear a hat, layer up and you can do just about anything, including playing golf. There’s a little extra satisfaction that comes with golf in the 30s as long as you leave your ego out of it, club up and find a sheltered spot to recharge post-round.
3 things to watch this week.
1. Pebble Beach!
It’s always fun to see golf at Pebble Beach. It’s even more fun to see Jordan Spieth play Pebble Beach. It’s going to be particularly fun seeing Spieth return to the site of his near-death experience at last year’s AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am. The field remains weaker than its heyday, but Spieth goes off as the 10-1 favorite.
2. Royal Greens!
The LIV gang is back in action this week at the Saudi International and a field that includes Bryson DeChambeau, Dustin Johnson, Brooks Koepka, Phil Mickelson and Cameron Smith. PGA Tour players including reigning Rookie of the Year Cameron Young, Cameron Champ and Lucas Herbert will be competing, too. (Cameron Tringale will be there, too, rounding out a field chock-full of Cams.)
3. This Max Homa video!
I promise! It’s fun. Stamping this rec with a Monday Finish money-back guarantee.
We’ll see you next week.
The author (cautiously) welcomes your comments at firstname.lastname@example.org.